ALBION Chairman Jeremy Peace reflected on a memorable season and spelled out the Club's plans for the future as he delivered his End of Season Dinner speech at a packed ICC this evening.
Here is the Chairman's speech in full:
Ladies and gentleman, good evening and welcome to our End of Season Dinner.
This is the second dinner of such prestige and magnitude that we have hosted and underlines the huge strides that our Club has made over the past decade.
It is great to see so many of you here tonight despite the change of date. Thank you for your support and I hope that you enjoy your evening.
Without wishing to hold up proceedings, I would like to spend a short time reflecting on another progressive season.
As early as February, the Club effectively achieved its prime objective of retaining its Barclays Premier League status, having been placed in the top half of the table all season.
After making our best start to a top-flight campaign for 59 years when the Club almost won the double, we have put ourselves in a good position to record our highest-ever Premier League finish.
The team has provided memorable achievements along the way: the double over Liverpool; the home victory over European champions Chelsea; a Premier League record of wins and points with four games remaining.
So we are now looking forward to a fourth successive season of Premier League football when, as always, our first target will be to achieve 40 points and safety at the earliest opportunity.
Our experience of maintaining a 25-man squad over the past three years has led us to the analysed conclusion that running with 22 players – augmented by the Development Squad and the option of topping up in January – is the way forward for a club of our size competing in the Premier League.
Our supporters have again played a big role this season and my thanks go to them for their tremendous backing – both home and away.
The fact that we look set to finish as the highest-placed Midlands team for the second successive season is highly-commendable.
As our supporters have chanted all year: We Know What We Are.
This season has seen changes at the football club. Richard Garlick has taken over as Sporting & Technical Director and I am looking forward to seeing him progress in this role.
I know that he will be ably supported by our recently-promoted Head of Scouting, Stuart White, our newly-appointed Head of Analysis, Dave McDonough – who has held similar roles at Inter Milan, Liverpool and Valencia – as well as our Head of Medical Services, Mark Gillett, and our Academy Manager, Mark Harrison.
At this point, I would especially like to thank Mark Jenkins, our Chief Executive, for his unstinting support since he joined the Club over a decade ago.
The new Financial Fair Play rules mean that we will, more than ever, have to think outside the box to ensure our limited resources go further.
We were not in favour of the introduction of these regulations.
Whilst it is our view that all football clubs should be financed in a sustainable manner that is guaranteed, we would prefer to operate in a market free from other regulations.
We regard Financial Fair Play as a misnomer. We believe the new rules are anti-competitive and will further reinforce the existing pecking order in the Premier League.
No longer will a major investor be able to join a club and change the Premier League landscape.
Meanwhile, we have continued to invest heavily in our infrastructure and we are currently implementing a £1million-plus upgrade of one of our main training areas.
The new playing surface will feature under-soil heating which will enable the first team to train there during the inclement winter months - a time when we have suffered a poor return of points in recent seasons.
We have also invested heavily in our Academy to achieve Category One status under the new Elite Player Performance Plan.
In the first year, running costs and the upgrade to facilities have absorbed approximately £4million.
The concept of EPPP is very much in its infancy and only time will tell if this project is the right way forward for youth development in this country.
Following my comments of two years ago regarding the potential expansion of The Hawthorns, we have carefully considered the next steps and have decided that a gradual increase in capacity is the best way forward.
Despite the fact that our season ticket prices are almost 20 per cent lower than eight seasons ago, attendances are only rising on average by 200 per season, largely due to the general and local economic environment, and the increasing number of televised games.
Such factors are uppermost in our minds when we consider the stadium’s capacity. We believe that the atmosphere generated by a packed ground is desirable both for the supporters in attendance and the worldwide TV viewing public.
So we will now find ways of adding seats within the existing stadium rather than building new capacity and creating indebtedness within the football club.
Back to this evening, I would like to thank Adrian Wright, our Sales & Marketing Director, and his staff for organising this event.
The ICC has again been chosen as a fitting venue and we are very grateful to Jaguar LandRover, this evening’s Title Sponsor, and Esprit UK, the event’s Associate Sponsor, for their generous support.
My special thanks go to our Principal Sponsor Zoopla. We have developed a close working relationship with them since they came on board last summer and we are looking forward to this continuing during 2013/14.
The evening has been made even more special by the fact that Adrian Chiles has once again found time in his busy schedule to be our compere. From Bayern to the Baggies all in one week!
Of course, the main focus of this evening is to celebrate the Club's achievements.
My sincere thanks go to Steve Clarke and his staff. Roy Hodgson was a tough act to follow but Steve, Kevin Keen, Keith Downing and Dean Kiely should be satisfied with a job well done this season.
Which brings me on to the main focus of the evening – the players.
There will, of course, be many opportunities to congratulate them later.
But I would like to conclude by extending my personal thanks to each and every one of them for their contribution to such a successful season.